NATPE: Where Content is King
Looking at this week's top ten PC games, one might think the best road to success is to work on the fortieth installment of a Wizardry or Civilization or the game adaptation of the next hot media property. Game developers can do just that at the NATPE convention, the annual meeting of media content professionals. International distributors and producers converge to sell animation, television series, and features to the world market. This convention often acts as a heads up for which new properties will be the break out hits of tomorrow. This year, with the uncertainty of the television industry due to sagging advertising dollars and an uncertain economy, many producers and distributors are looking for additional ways to make money through repurposing, that is, finding additional revenue sources for the same property.
The biggest companies in television back some of the most popular products in entertainment. Major distributors such as Warner Brothers and Disney often have in-house game publishers involved. Series destined for broad appeal have already attracted major game publishers. 4Kids Entertainment, behind the Kids WB!'s YU-GI-OH and the relaunch of ULTRAMAN, only approaches major game publishers, such as Konami.
Other popular animated series are often themselves based on another popular medium. Nelvana, a leading animation producer, reported high sales for the kids series FRANKLIN and MAURICE SENDAK'S LITTLE BEAR, both of which are based on book series for children. Another popular title, the action-packed RESCUE HEROES, features a group of emergency response personnel. The series stems from a toy line from Fisher-Price.
Despite the corporate monoliths that lurk behind many popular brands, there is still room for the independent developer to approach the bigger-name companies. Pioneer, the force behind the seminal AKIRA and the new AH! MY GODDESS movies, would welcome the opportunity to bring some of the Japanime series it owns to the US game market. Popular anime series such as FUSHIGI YUGI, featuring three young bandits in a world of sword and sorcery, and Cartoon Network's TENCHI MUYO, about a boy who finds himself living with five alien girls, are open to game developers and are supported with merchandising programs as well.
Furthermore, with repurposing the name of the game, previously unapproachable brands may suddenly be open to concepts that will lead to more revenue. At NATPE, Dick Wolf, creator of the three LAW & ORDER dramatic series, announced that a new LAW & ORDER series would premiere in none other than Russia. Wolf explained that the series would be entirely in Russian and based on the Russian system of law. He reported that according to the Russian producers, there are many laws in Russia, but not much order. What's next for the LAW & ORDER franchise? You guessed it. Legacy Interactive will release the Law & Order Interactive game in March.
Not all entertainment programs at NATPE are tried and true hits and thus may be more open to outside interest. ADV Films, which will soon be bringing the cult hit comic book Lady Death to animated life, is active in licensing. Many nascent titles also tend to push the edge of technology. GALIDOR, a new series produced by the Canadian Cinégroupe, premieres in February on Fox Kids Saturday morning in the US. The series, following a 15-year-old boy whisked into the Outer Dimension, blends live action with 3D CGI animation and special effects. Another Canadian company, Mainframe Entertainment, produces many computer animated series, including REBOOT, ACTION MAN, MAX STEEL, and the upcoming GATE CRASHER. The latter is based on a comic book from semi-independent publisher Black Bull Entertainment out of the United States.
On a different kind of screen, EDDY THE ECO-DOG has made a name for itself on the internet and has been featured on CNN.com. The flash animated series follows a hip, surfing dog from another planet as he and his friends travel to Earth and beyond. The series, aimed at children and tweens (too old to be children, too young to be teens), airs on www.KidsWebTV.com.
On the Runway
Indeed, the trend toward computer generated animated series has led some companies to put the multi in multimedia. Imagi Production, Ltd. in Hong Kong offers 3D modeling and character design services for television, commercials, and on-line gaming. At NATPE this year, they presented their first animated series called ZENTRIX. XENTRIX features a futuristic world where humans are ruled by robots. All 22 of the episodes were computer generated. If the series is sold, the video game rights may go to the distributor or may be retained by Imagi.
ZENTRIX is an example, albeit extreme, of concepts and ideas that launch at NATPE and other content conventions throughout the year. With the uncertain market in mind, one exhibitor aimed to bring in all the different revenue sources from the very beginning. The project, WAMINALS, would be a digitally animated series for ages 5-15. Although not even in production, the series creators have investigated many avenues for merchandising such as collectable cards, music tie-ins, and possibly video games.
A New Game
For the entertainment industry, 2002 may be the turning point in the way business is conducted. The money-rich times of the past are gone due to an increasing number of outlets for advertising dollars and the decreasing licensing fees producers earn for entertainment properties on multiple networks and outlets. We have already seen Hollywood turn its hungry eyes toward popular gaming titles such as TOMB RAIDER and AMERICAN MCGEE'S ALICE, upcoming from Dimension Films. Meanwhile, Hollywood standards such as ALIENS VS. PREDATOR make a killing in the gaming market. Game adaptations of entertainment titles or, conversely, film adaptations of game titles, will need to happen earlier in the development and production process and more often to garner additional revenue. If the downturn continues, Hollywood is going to need it.